Archives for category: Central government

Eve Jones invites all to join a peaceful, lawful march this Saturday to ask Birmingham City Council to declare a climate emergency and to introduce sweeping measures to combat global warming and mass extinction:

1. Debate a climate emergency motion at full council;
2. Pledge to make the city of Birmingham carbon neutral by 2025;
3. Call on Westminster to provide the powers and resources to make this target achievable;
4. Work with other local authorities on methods to limit Global Warming to less than 1.5°C;
5. Work with partners across the West Midlands to deliver this goal;
6. Report to Full Council within six months with the actions the Council will take to address this emergency.

Meet outside Waterstones by the bullring and march up New Street to Victoria Square, where the protest will take place. Meet at 12.30pm outside Waterstones or 1pm at Victoria Square.

Though the UK government admits we are failing to meet Paris Agreement targets which would keep us below a 2 degree rise, two weeks ago, when the House of Commons debated climate change for the first time in two years, 610 MPs stayed away. This seems at odds with the level of threat which we face, which is why we want our government to take urgent action now before we are forced to endure the consequences

The biggest price is already being paid by the very poorest of the world’s citizens and by nations least able to protect themselves (see Cyclone Idai in Malawi and Mozambique, for example) and even here in the UK it has been reported that our agricultural harvest was already 20% less productive in 2018 due to unusual weather-patterns. Eve ends:

“When we march on Saturday, we want to show Birmingham City Council and the people of Birmingham that we are united as a city and speak with one voice. We want groups from all of our communities to come down, make themselves visible, and make their voices heard”.

Read more here: www.facebook.com/extinctionrebellionbirmingham

 

 

 

 

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Research has shown that traffic congestion cost the British economy almost £8 billion last year and that air pollution is ‘emerging’ as a public health issue. Dozens of councils will face legal action after failing to tackle toxic gas from diesels.

Yesterday the West Midlands Combined Authority approved a trial which will provide motorists with money – up to £3,000 a year – to be spent on public transport, electric car hire and bike sharing schemes in exchange for giving up their vehicle. The project will be launched in Coventry this year before being expanded across the West Midlands and elsewhere if it proves successful.

Cash credits will be loaded on to a smartphone app or a Swift card, which is similar to London’s Oyster card but can be spent on public transport, car sharing or green hire schemes.

Andy Street, the Conservative mayor of the West Midlands, said: “We want to make it quick, easy and cheap for everyone to travel around the region by creating a range of reliable alternatives to private car ownership . . . This is a bold, ambitious vision for the future, and we’re confident we can prove the concept in the West Midlands and

The project will be funded as part of a £20 million government “future mobility” grant but taxpayer support will eventually be replaced by long-term funding from private companies including electric car clubs and bus or train operators.

One reader commented that any serious attempt to reduce car usage (congestion and pollution) would involve improving public transport – a far more costly undertaking.

Another, who lived in Stuttgart for two years writes, “Car ownership is much higher in Germany, but their owners are willing to leave them at home and use public transport where it’s a better choice. Unfortunately, in the UK our public transport outside London is not integrated, generally not frequent and not cheap – and this would take decades of investment to put right.

 

 

 

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A Bournville reader has drawn attention to the research findings revealed in a BBC programme.

The BBC’s Shared Data Unit, used freedom of information requests and Land Registry data to obtain information on 92,000 Right to Buy sales across England, Scotland and Wales recording an average of £69,000 each from the scheme since 2000, according to the Times. The biggest profits were in London, with buyers in Islington making almost £100,000 each on average.

From the data gathered, it was calculated that 140 tenants bought and resold their council homes within a month, generating a collective profit of £3 million or £21,000 each.

In one case, a former council tenant in Solihull purchased his/her council home for £8,000 and sold it for £285,000 nine days later. Did s/he and others pay back some or all of the discount they received – as those who sell within five years of purchasing are required to?

State of play until 2013: source, Ampp3d, a data-journalism website for Trinity Mirror 

In January 2017, Right to Buy was halted in Wales, as it was in Scotland in 2016 after 37 years.

The devolved administrations argued that its cost to the social housing supply has been too great. Despite central government pledges to replace homes sold through Right to Buy, most receipts have been returned to the Treasury rather than reinvested in affordable housing.

The Financial Times noted that some 40% of right-to-buy homes pass into the private rented sector, where they may continue to absorb government funds through housing benefit.

The Chartered Institute of Housing once again repeated its call for Right to Buy to be suspended in England.

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Our reader commented that George Cadbury encountered similar profiteering in the early days of Bournville and set up the Bournville Village Trust to administer the project. See Bournville, Model Village to Garden Suburb, Harrison pp 44 Publisher Phillimore, ISBN 1 86077 117 3.

Extract from Management and Organisational Behaviour by Laurie J. Mullins 

 

 

 

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August, who lives in Moseley, sends a first-hand account of Birmingham students’ march against climate change. 

He writes:

More than five hundred Birmingham students bunked off school today to march against climate change.

All Birmingham-based photographs reproduced with permission: copyright August Goff

Youth Strike 4 Climate coordinated young people from various educational establishments across the city who met up in the city centre.

They marched from Victoria Square, down New Street, through Pigeon Park and back to Victoria Square to protest against the inaction of governments to tackle climate change.

The march was organised by Katie Riley, a Birmingham student. She spoke at the rally, saying:

“Educate the youth of tomorrow and the parliament of today because people who don’t know what climate change is about don’t know how dangerous it is. Some people think the topic is dull and boring because the curriculum makes it like that. So, we need to change how people view climate change in order to get the change we deserve.”

Councillors from local political parties attended, as did Jess Phillips, Labour MP for Yardley.

Similar events have taken place in 100 British towns and other cities including London, Edinburgh, Canterbury, Oxford and Cambridge, calling for urgent action to tackle climate change, cut emissions and switch to renewable energy.

A few hours later a message was received from Irish colleagues, sending a podcast with messages from two 11-year-olds, Eve O’Connor and Beth Malone, who are involved in the schools climate strikes movementThousands turned out in Dublin and demonstrations were held in many towns.

 

 

 

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A Bournville resident sent a link to an article summarising new research commissioned by the Local Government Association (LGA) Cambridge Economics.

Its conclusion: building 100,000 government-funded social rent homes a year over the past two decades would have cut ‘billions’ from the housing benefit bill.

In 1997, over a third of households lived in council housing, compared with just one in 10 today. The number of homes built for social rent each year has fallen from over 40,000 in 1997 to 6,000 in 2017. Successive governments imposed rules and restrictions hampering the ability of councils to replace homes sold through Right to Buy.

If 100,000 government-funded social rent homes had been built each year over the past two decades, tenants would have had a higher disposable income and ‘significant economic returns’ would have been generated for councils.

The LGA add that this loss of social housing has led to more and more individuals and families finding themselves ‘pushed’ into the private rented sector. As a result, the housing benefit bill paid to private landlords has more than doubled since the early 2000s.

Conclusions

  • Building 100,000 social rent homes each year for the past 20 years would have enabled all housing benefit claimants living in the private rented sector to move to social rent homes by 2016
    • The housing benefit claimants that would have moved from the private rented sector to social rent homes would have benefited of £1.8bn in extra disposable income over the period
    • Overall, the government would have had to borrow an additional £152bn in 2017 prices to build the homes over the 20-year period.
    • The rising proportion of housing benefit caseloads in the private rented sector has cost an extra £7bn in real terms over the last decade

On the report, Cllr Martin Tett, LGA Housing spokesman, added: “By scrapping the housing borrowing cap, the government showed it had heard our argument that councils must be part of the solution to our chronic housing shortage”. The LGA states that if councils are to truly fulfil their ‘historic role’ as major housebuilders then the government needs to allow councils to keep 100% of Right to Buy receipts and set discounts locally to replace every home sold, as well as setting out sustainable long-term funding and a commitment to social housing in the Spending Review.

The Local Government Association said its new research provides evidence for why the government should use the Spending Review to work with councils to ensure the success of the renaissance in council housebuilding needed to increase housing supply and reduce homelessness.

Further reading:

Jeremy Corbyn’s housing policy document

John Healey, shadow secretary of state for housing and planning

 

 

 

 

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As our first public event, Extinction Rebellion West Midlands will be holding a talk entitled: ‘Heading for extinction and what to do about it’.

The talk will outline the issues surrounding climate change and biodiversity loss, and how we can use our feelings of despair constructively to overwrite the cycle of ignorance and inactivity present in the policy making sphere.

George Monbiot encourages elders to stand in solidarity with the youth climate strikes:

By combining your determination and our experience, we can build a movement big enough to overthrow the life-denying system that has brought us to the brink of disaster – and beyond. Together, we must demand a different way, a life-giving system that defends the natural world on which we all depend. A system that honours you, our children, and values equally the lives of those who are not born.

Together, we will build a movement that must – and will – become irresistible”.

For more info on Extinction Rebellion: https://rebellion.earth/

At the event you will be able to find out more about our movement and the activities we have planned

Voluntary contributions are gratefully accepted on the door to help cover room hire costs.

Like us on facebook to keep updated with local activity: https://www.facebook.com/extinctionrebellionbirmingham/

 

 

 

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Why aren’t we, the electorate, consulted about the whole Council Budget, not just the proposed cuts?

 

 A recent BATC article asked this question and continued:

“The Council’s Budget Consultation is not a consultation about the whole Budget, only about the Council’s planned cuts. On 19 December the Council held a public Budget Consultation meeting.  But it was a rigged consultation because we weren’t given the full Budget plans, only the proposals for the cuts that the Council leadership wants to make.

“The cuts the Council has decided on amount to £50 million this year. But the Council’s total Controllable Expenditure is £1.1billion. The planned savings amount to just 4.5% of the total Council Budget.

  • Where are the plans for the remaining 95.5%? There isn’t a word about them in the consultation document.
  • Why are they kept secret and not spelled out in the report?

“(Of course the Council will say they aren’t secret, they are published somewhere – but this is meaningless if they don’t say where to find them.)”

Smoke and mirrors? 

In 2011, the late Alan Clawley, a tenacious scrutineer, spent several days poring over the 166-page Budget Book and saw that public services were indeed being cut – as publicised – but that civic spending was actually set to increase. 

He was so surprised by this finding that he emailed the council to check the figures, thinking that he must have made a mistake. He referred to these findings in the Birmingham Press after setting them out in great detail at a WM New Economics Group meeting, adding his proposals for an alternative budget. He continued: 

“When I looked at the overall cost of running the Council I saw that it is to INCREASE by £14 million, i.e. from £3,513 million in 2010/11 to £3,527 million in 2011/12.  

“To arrive at this bottom line the council has made CUTS of £149 million but INCREASES of £164 million, which includes £14 million extra for the Leader’s budget.  

“I can’t see where the much-publicised cut of £212 million comes from.  

“The CAPITAL BUDGET has been reduced by £16 million but this consists of a £95 million CUT and a £79 million INCREASE on projects such as the Library of Birmingham, Harborne Pool, Sparkhill Pool, Alexander Stadium, Safety works to parks Highways Maintenance, Big City Plan, High Speed 2, New Street Gateway, Eastside, and Icknield Port Loop”.

The council’s tables were published in an article with the relevant facts highlighted and  Alan Clawley ended by asking:

“How can we (non-experts) know if Birmingham City Council is telling us the truth when it says that the government is forcing it to cut the cost of services by over £200 million next year?  

“How many of us will study the 166-page Budget Book or by spend time scrutinising even the simplified version of the accounts that come with the Council Tax bill”.

 

Fast forward to 2019

The BATC article continues: ”The Council leadership says ‘The purpose of this consultation is… to invite the public and partners to consider these savings proposals, provide feedback and, if they wish, make alternative suggestions’ .” (Report to Cabinet 13 November).  

“But how can we make alternative suggestions if we aren’t given the full picture? 

“The Council Budget Equality Impact Assessment document says explicitly that the cuts they propose will hit the poorest and most vulnerable hardest. Here’s just one shocking statistic: more than 2 in 5 children in Birmingham live in poverty. 

“There must be savings that can be made out of the 92% of the hidden budget that will cause less damage to these children and their families than the cuts the Council leadership plans”.

The writer asks if the councillors really believe that if the Council leadership consulted on the whole 100% of the Budget, not just its selected four and a half percent, the citizens of Birmingham would say they want to cut:

  • Travel Assist for pupils in need,
  • school crossing patrols,
  • half the libraries’ books budget,
  • the Legal Entitlement & Advice Service accessed by some of the most vulnerable people of Birmingham,
  • privatise or close Council day nurseries
  • the hours of low paid Home Care workers
  • and other damaging cuts in the proposed Budget.

“That is one reason why it is a token consultation. But there is another. The introduction to the Budget Consultation 2019+ November 2018 by Councillors Ian Ward and Brigid Jones says “We know that the decisions laid out in this document will affect many of your lives, which is why it is so important for us to hear from you, and that you take the time to talk to us.”  The Report to Cabinet (13 November) says “Comments from the public will be invited at face-to-face meetings with the public….” Note it says “meetings” plural. And yet they arranged just one solitary consultation meeting. A leaflet given out at the meeting from BATC, Save Our Nurseries and Birmingham Keep Our NHS Public says:

  1. We call for open local meetings to be set up across the city by the Council, to which ordinary citizens, community and campaigning groups are invited to participate.
  2. They would have the aim of drawing up a charter of service needs, campaigning for Birmingham’s money to be returned and developing a vision for a new people’s city, a new Birmingham.

These meetings could be the catalyst for a mass campaign, led by the Council, against the Government austerity policies which are the cause of the relentless cuts in the Council’s budgets. 

2011 https://politicalcleanup.wordpress.com/2011/07/23/newspaper-headlines-shouted-council-cuts-but-what-actually-happened

2019 https://birminghamagainstthecuts.wordpress.com/2019/01/01/why-arent-we-consulted-about-the-whole-council-budget-not-just-the-proposed-cuts/#more-10301

 

 

 

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On December 29th, Philip Aldrick Economics Editor of The Times (right), wrote: “This winter has been the worst for rough sleeping in memory. In central London, the tattered sleeping bags and cardboard mattresses that serve as beds are too often found in an underpass or crammed beneath an overhang. My children have started asking: ‘Why?’ “

He comments: “It is no accident. Government policy has made the situation worse. Not deliberately, mind you”.

  • Official figures from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government showed a 15% increase in those camping on England’s streets last year.
  • The single night count has risen from 1,768 in 2010 to 4,751. Of those, 1,137 were in London.
  • The charity Shelter estimates that 320,000 people are homeless in Britain today, 13,000 more than last year, once temporary accommodation is included.
  • That’s one in every 200 Britons.
  • Since 2011, there has been a steep increase in the number of people registering as homeless after being evicted for failing to pay rent.
  • On top of that are the “hidden homeless” living in sheds, cars or on a friend’s sofa.
  • homeless deaths in England and Wales. In 2017, there were 597, a 24% increase since 2013.
  • London and the North West were the worst affected, with 136 and 119, respectively.

To trace the roots of the crisis he went back to the right-to-buy revolution

In 1980 councils were still building 67,450 homes a year across the UK. The country had an estimated 500,000 more homes than it needed because the state had overbuilt. Margaret Thatcher therefore decided to withdraw the state as far as possible and successive governments persisted with the policy and the housing surplus turned into a deficit.

The decision to end council housing drove poorer people into private rented accommodation, where housing benefit soared to levels the state could no longer afford.

The government says England alone now needs 300,000 homes a year. Herriot-Watt University estimates that 145,000 must be affordable and 90,000 specifically for social rent to replace those lost in the 1980s.

The focus shifted to the private sector with a duty to build profitable homes, which tend to be higher value — not the ones most needed.

Competition for homes drove up prices and rents. By 2012, housing benefit claimants in the private rented sector more than doubled to 1.6 million. Rents rose faster than earnings, pushing more on to welfare. Housing benefit had risen from 0.8% of GDP in 1983 to 1% in the early 2000s and to over 1.5% in 2012, costing government an additional £10 billion more every year for housing claimants alone.

But, to date, private housebuilders, catering for the affluent, have failed to deliver the social homes needed.

The coalition government changed empty dwelling management orders under which councils could seize properties left unoccupied for more than six months – that was extended to a period of two years.

There are now an estimated 200,000 long-term empty homes in the UK – almost 20,000 of them in London

Aldrick believes that government’s decision – ‘finally’ – to give councils the resources to build again, addresses the core problem. He points out that in the long term, council housing is cheaper for the taxpayer than private rents and more secure for tenants. It also offers cash-strapped councils  the prospect of steady rental revenues to help fund services (see a Sheffield case study).

Until councils have built enough homes, Aldrick suggests a practical interim measure: government could return the empty dwelling rules back to six months in order to make more homes available.

 

 

 

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Though the NHS’s funding formula is designed to provide more money to the neediest areas, an FT article reported last week that – according to data analysed by the Nuffield Trust for the Financial Times – some poorer communities being “left behind” when accessing GP services.

Sarah Neville, Global Pharmaceuticals Editor, summarising the data, reports that rich and poor people in England receive different standards of care from the UK’s universal free health service.

Despite the higher burden of ill health in lower socio-economic groups, there are markedly fewer GPs per head in poorer areas of England than in richer areas. More details are given here.

Market Place, Tipton

National Health Service Sandwell residents feel health concerns go unheeded. The FT reports that data from the Sandwell and West Birmingham clinical commissioning group (CCG), which holds the budget for treating the local population, shows that 45.6% reported seeing their preferred GP always or most of the time, compared with a national average of 54.9%. The percentage not able to get a GP appointment stood at 17.1, compared with 11.4% nationally.

Pam Jones, who used to chair Healthwatch, described a kind of vicious circle for local surgeries: “Because they haven’t got enough GPs, they have to employ locums. They employ locums and then it takes more money out of their practice.”

Andy Williams, who heads the Sandwell and West Birmingham clinical commissioning group as its accountable officer, acknowledged that, despite measures to make more GP appointments available, he still receives feedback complaining that it is difficult to get an appointment, “ . . . so we know we’ve got a lot more to do. But we’re taking a much, much more diverse and imaginative approach now”.

He said recruitment has become much harder in the past two years, as a new generation of medical school graduates no longer want to make a mortgage-sized commitment to buy an equity share in a practice to which they are then tied to financially for their working life.

Local GP Ray Sullivan who chairs the local medical committee of the British Medical Association, said he was struggling with a relentless increase in workload without an equivalent increase in funding. He still receives “£150 per patient to do everything” and adds: “That’s the same as I got ten years ago. And the burden of work has gone up incrementally every year since.”

The findings increase pressure on the NHS to outline measures to reduce health inequalities when it publishes its long-awaited spending plan next month.

 

 

 

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FRIDAY, DECEMBER 21st, 12noon – 2pm:

‘Reclaim the BBC’ protest vigil outside the Mailbox, Birmingham as a West Midlands Extinction Rebellion action to draw attention to the urgency of need for action on climate change.

Climate campaigners are calling on the BBC to declare a climate emergency and make the issue its top editorial priority.

Richard Bruce draws our attention to the truly remarkable the Swedish youngster in the video link below, adding that her message should be widely heard around the world! He comments’ “There is hope yet – if only those in positions of influence would listen and stop depending on the dishonest corporate science…. Brave girl…” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HzeekxtyFOY&frags=pl%2Cwn

The Guardian reports that climate campaigners Extinction Rebellion (XR) came to prominence last month when they organised the largest civil disobedience protest seen in the UK for decades, culminating in the occupation and closure of five bridges in central London. The group launched at the end of October with a blockade of Parliament Square in London. Since then it has grown rapidly and XR branches have sprung up in more than 35 countries.

The rapid spread of XR comes as frustration rises with policymakers who are failing to slow perilous levels of global warming and biodiversity loss. There have been a flurry of reports on the scale of the climate crisis , including one from the UN which said there were only 12 years left to limit some of the most devastating impacts. Several cities in the UK, including London, have now declared a climate emergency.

XR is calling on the government to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2025 and establish a “citizens assembly” to devise an emergency plan of action, similar to that seen during the second world war.

This month 100 prominent figures including the former archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and the authors Philip Pullman and Naomi Klein backed XR: “We must collectively do whatever’s necessary non-violently, to persuade politicians and business leaders to relinquish their complacency and denial,” their open letter stated.

During a second wave of civil disobedience this weekend, thousands of people staged peaceful direct action protests in towns and cities around the UK.

The latest XR group to set up internationally was in New York, where activists announced plans at their first meeting this weekend for a US national day of action on 26 January. The group is planning an international week of rebellion in April.

 

 

 

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